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Maryland planned to use PR firm to sway fan opinion

By Tom Fornelli | Staff Writer

Could this be the person you're arguing with on the Internet? (USATSI)
Could this be the person you're arguing with on the Internet? (USATSI)

So it turns out that person you don't actually know using an alias on that message board may not be who you thought they were. It could just be somebody from a public relations firm who is being paid to try to change your opinion.

That's what Maryland tried to do following its move to the Big Ten. As you'd expect, a lot of Maryland fans weren't happy that the school was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and they did what any logical fan would do: they turned to the internet to voice their displeasure.

And according to the emails the Baltimore Sun got its hands on, Maryland hired a public relations form to try to stem the tide of negativity.

The public relations campaign was meant to help turn the tide in favor of the move. It included hiring a corporate communications consultant to help shape the message and also working to prevent news of the negotiations from getting out before the move was imminent.

"So far, this is unfolding just as we expected," Brian Ullmann, the university's assistant vice president for marketing and communications, wrote in an email to deputy athletic director Nathan Pine on Nov. 18, one day after negotiations on the impending move were disclosed in the media. "We knew that in the absence of our messaging during this initial stage, most fans would react emotionally and negatively. That has occurred and clearly the message boards and comments sections skew heavily negative. Several of us placed comments on boards and media sites last night to help balance it out."

Ullmann also wrote that the school planned to "engage professional assistance in helping to drop positive messages into the blogs, comments and message board sites. I will arrange for this service today."

The paper goes on to say that the school also considered having a famous alum, ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, be the one who broke the news of the conference switch to the fan base because it would be in the school's "best interest to let Van Pelt break the story and talk about the positives."

So keep all of this in mind the next time you're on a message board and someone who clearly doesn't know nearly as much as you do has a differing opinion. They're probably working for the man.

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